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To date, the first six parts of the Complete Guide to Dominating IDP have focused on assembling a team. We have discussed the importance of Knowing your Scoring. We have reviewed basic IDP Draft Strategy. We have talked about what to look for in Defensive Linemen, Linebackers, and Defensive Backs. We've even reviewed some Advanced IDP Concepts.
IDP Guide, Part 1: Scoring
IDP Guide, Part 2: Basic Draft Strategy
IDP Guide, Part 3: Drafting Defensive Linemen
IDP Guide, Part 4: Drafting Linebackers
IDP Guide, Part 5: Drafting Defensive Backs
IDP Guide, Part 6: Advanced IDP Concepts
Fantasy managers now have all the information they need to assemble a competitive team. Check that—a winning team. But putting a strong team together doesn't mean anything if you can't navigate the trials and tribulations that come with each and every week of the season. If you can't turn potential into production and win games. In order to do that, IDP managers have to set the best possible lineup.
Dance With Who Brought You—At Least to Start
We're about to discuss a ton of statistics that can be used to help IDP managers set lineups. Those statistics have considerable value and can make a big-time impact.
But early in the season, they can also be misleading.
Sure, we know that the Denver Broncos led the league in sacks allowed a year ago with 63. That the Indianapolis Colts allowed the most fantasy points per game to linebackers in 2022. That the Colts also threw more interceptions (20) than any team in the league. And some of that could carry over in 2023—the Colts will likely rely as heavily as ever on running back Jonathan Taylor with rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson under center.
But much can change in the NFL from season to season. The Broncos, for example, invested big-time money in the offensive line by signing tackle Mike McGlinchey. Last year's gravy matchup could lose much of its luster in 2023. Teams that were stingy from an IDP perspective can become much more favorable matchups.
Similarly, trusting the data from the first couple weeks of the year can be just as tricky. The sample size just isn't big enough to trust. Just because a team gives up seven sacks over the season's first two games doesn't mean they will be a plus matchup for defensive linemen all season long.
This isn't to say there are no constants in IDP. The Kansas City Chiefs were last in the AFC in fantasy points surrendered to linebackers. It's the third time in four years that Kansas City has been bottom-three in the league in that category. They just don't give up points to the linebacker position. Not with Patrick Mahomes II running the show.
But until we have a better idea of what the 2023 numbers look like—say, a month into the season, your best bet is to start the players you drafted as starters. You chose those guys for a reason—so roll them out.
This happens every single year. After Week 1, I will be deluged with panicked tweets because Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald because he had just a solo and an assist in the opener. Or because Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson had just two tackles and two assists. In Week 1. They will ask if they should relegate those players to the bench—or even drop them entirely.
Do not succumb to the early-season yips. One week (or two) does not a season make. Defensive linemen especially can be streaky, and all it takes is one big week to turn a “slump” around and get things on the right track. Again, if it's a month into the season and there has been one dud after another, then decisions will need to be made. But in the early going, just chill—one of two slow weeks isn't going to stop linebacker Roquan Smith of the Baltimore Ravens from having a big year.
If there's an exception to this bit of advice, it's with defensive backs. One of the reasons for waiting to draft defenses is that most are unpredictable from year to year. The less you have invested in a player, the easier it is to sit them down—or cut them loose entirely.
That's a story for Part 8, though.
You may not be able to trust the numbers early in the season. But there are tendencies that carry over from year to year. Strengths and weaknesses teams demonstrate that tend to indicate a good (or bad) fantasy matchup.
On the defensive line, the teams that annually lead the league in sacks allowed and fantasy points allowed to defensive linemen tend to share certain characteristics. Often, it's a bad offensive line. Or a rookie or second-year quarterback—young signal-callers often hold the ball longer than they should. They are more often than not bad -teams—of the top-five teams in fantasy points allowed to defensive ends in 2022, just one (the Los Angeles Chargers) had a winning record.
By most estimations, the Tennessee Titans, Washington Commanders, and Los Angeles Rams all have terrible offensive lines in 2023. The Commanders are trotting out an unproven young quarterback in Sam Howell, and Matthew Stafford won't be confused with Justin Fields any time soon. We might not know for sure that trio will be juicy matchups for D-linemen. But it sure looks like it.
Guru Tip: Statistics are a great place to start, but they don't always give you the little things that can make a big difference. When it comes to the defensive line and especially pass rushers, look for recent injuries on the opponent's offensive line. A team might be stingy for several weeks, making them look like a poor matchup based on sacks allowed or fantasy points scored, but one or two key injuries along the offensive line can change things drastically. It might take a few weeks for those points against or sack totals to catch up. If you can get a good pass rusher against a backup tackle, that is a formula for success.
Where linebackers are concerned, it's generally a good idea to target teams that have prolific offenses, like the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, who were both top-10 matchups at the position last season. And (stunner) teams that run the ball a lot—the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns were among the league leaders in both carries and fantasy points given up to linebackers.
Many of the tendencies IDP managers should look to target at linebacker apply to safeties as well—four of the top seven teams in carries last year (the Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Baltimore Ravens) also ranked among the top-five fantasy points surrendered to safeties. But turnover-prone offenses can offer similar appeal as successful ones at the position—thanks to Indy's penchant for giveaways in 2022, the Colts led the AFC in fantasy points given up to safeties. So young and mistake-prone quarterbacks generally mean good things.
At cornerback, many IDP managers believe that just targeting opponents with excellent passing attacks is the way to go. And to some extent, that's true—the Bengals, Bills, and Minnesota Vikings all were favorable IDP matchups in 2022. But passing games prone to mistakes can be even better. The Colts, Broncos, Los Angeles Rams, and Las Vegas Raiders were all among the league leaders in both interceptions thrown and fantasy points given up to the position. So again, those mistake-prone passers are players to be sought out.
Godfather Tip: In the majority of IDP leagues that require cornerbacks, I stream at least one (and possibly both) of my starters at the position. Draft a couple with favorable matchups to begin the year, and then rotate players with similarly good matchups every week. Target those potent offenses. Or guys facing wide receivers who are among the league's target leaders. The corner who draws Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings or Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills in a given game is going to be busy. You can get production from this “Frankencorner” that rivals elite options at the position—on the cheap.
Guru Tip: Gary mentioned streaming corners. If you are going to do so, it is important to know how teams will defend against certain players or in certain situations. Some teams will put their best corner on an opponent's best receiver. Most of the time, these are the matchups to target because the ball is going to be thrown that way often. Other teams will put their best corner on the opponent's number two receiver so they can double-team the top guy. This can be a tough nuance to follow, especially early in the season, but once we get into October, tendencies will start to take shape.
One more tip when it comes to corners is that if you can identify the teams that use a lot of Cover-2 (two deep safeties), their corners will usually make a lot of tackles. In these coverages, the safeties are each responsible for a deep half of the field. That means the corners can gamble on throws underneath because they have help over the top. It also means those corners have more run support opportunities. The strong side corner (usually on the left of the defense) often has strong safety responsibilities on running plays.
Know the Role
There are simply not enough every-down linebackers out there for all teams to have four or five of them. Unless you commit a lot of early-round draft capital to land a cast of those guys, you will, at some point, have to start players that are not getting 95% of the snaps. Know the role of the linebackers on your roster.
There are some pretty good LB3s and LB4s that see about 80% of the playing time across an entire season. Rarely do those players get 80% of the snaps every week. It's usually 90% here, 70% there, with an occasional 60% or lower. Generally, the snap counts vary due to sub-package participation. When playing a team like Cincinnati, Buffalo, or Kansas City, a linebacker that is not on the field in nickel packages is likely to have a light workload. These teams are not necessarily going to exhibit poor matchup numbers for linebackers in general because they use the short passing game to supplement the ground attack. That means a spread offense with three or four receivers and one running back, which generally brings out a nickel defense to match up. More and more teams are turning to a “big nickel”, featuring three safeties, as a base in these matchups.
Just the Stats, Ma'am
Most IDP managers know to check stats like sacks allowed, giveaways, and fantasy points allowed to certain positions as a barometer of which players have the better matchups in a given week. But other numbers can be just as helpful—maybe more so.
For defensive linemen, it's not just about sacks allowed. Hurries and pressures allowed matter too. Aaron Rudnicki's fantastic IDP Matchup Excel Tool just so happens to track those, and as it happens, those Titans we mentioned as a favorable IDP matchup in 2023 were second in pressures allowed last season. He also tracks QB Hits and Tackles for Loss allowed.
Don't just look at teams, either. Individual matchups matter too. If you know that Demarcus Lawrence of the Dallas Cowboys will be squaring off against Evan Neal of the New York Giants (who allowed eight sacks last year and was most abysmal in pass protection), then it's probably a week where Lawrence should be starting.
That's just the start of the assistance that Rudnick's tool offers IDP managers when it comes to discerning which matchups are favorable. It tracks tackle opportunities allowed—a category led by the Philadelphia Eagles last season. The Eagles were good but not great in terms of fantasy points allowed to linebackers (11th), but teams like the Browns, Colts, and Arizona Cardinals all ranked highly in both tackle opportunities allowed, and fantasy points surrendered to the position.
There's also the matter of rush attempts faced, a category paced by the Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks, and Atlanta Falcons. As you can see, most of those teams were terrible in 2022, and it stands to reason that facing more rushing attempts means good things for linebackers.
Again, safeties will often benefit from the same sort of stats that help out linebackers. But defensive backs can also get a boost from facing a lot of pass attempts and allowing a lot of passes defended. The Vikings led the league in that latter category in 2022 and were 12th in fantasy points allowed to safeties and second in fantasy points allowed to cornerbacks. No team was thrown on more in 2022 than the Titans, and both safety Kevin Byard and cornerback Roger McCreary were top-15 fantasy options at their respective positions as a result.
Will there be anomalies every year? Yes—the Falcons led the league in rushing attempts last year but were bottom-five in fantasy points allowed to linebackers. But Rudnicki's Matchup Tool is an invaluable resource in pointing out the numbers that will lead IDP managers to where the favorable matchups lie.
Find a favorable matchup, and fantasy points will follow.
Don't Get Cute
So, you've scoured the data (or, more smartly, let the IDP Staff here at Footballguys do it for you ahead of, say, Week 7, and you come to something of a startling revelation.
Raiders linebacker Divine Deablo has a better IDP matchup with the Browns than Nick Bolton of the Chiefs does with the New York Jets—in just about every way imaginable, Deablo appears set for the better game.
So, what do you do?
You start Bolton anyway.
One of the reasons elite IDP options like Bolton are elite is that they have demonstrated they can be “matchup-proof.” That they can post numbers regardless of the opponent. The point of analyzing matchup data is to help differentiate between similarly-ranked players and maximize your team's potential—not to get cute and bench your best defensive player.
It is much easier to live with a middling option like Deablo blowing up on the bench than it is to take a loss because you got cute and sat your LB1. That's the sort of gaffe that can haunt you for days.
As with most things, however, there is an exception. If you are in a “must-win” game late in the season or playoffs and fashion yourself an underdog and truly feel like you have to milk every possible point from your lineup, Go nuts. Be bold. Swing for the fences.
After all, the only person who has to live with the consequences of your lineup calls is you.
Guru Tip: As usual, The Godfather has done a great job of covering things. I want to start by emphasizing that last part. Gary says, “Don't get cute”. I call it, think long, think wrong. There is a thin line between covering your bases and overanalyzing situations. This particularly comes into play late in the year when we find ourselves without much room for error. It can be very easy to talk yourself into starting someone because they seem to have a few little advantages. More often than not, that will bite you hard. I rarely roll with a lesser player over my normal starter just because the backup has signs pointing up for that week. It has to be a pretty strong case of my starter having signs pointing down before I consider sitting them.
OK, we have shown you how to draft a competitive team. How to make the most of that team when setting your lineup. We are almost finished with the Complete Guide to Dominating IDP at Footballguys.
Just two parts remain—next time, we'll look at managing and improving your roster via the waiver wire and trades.
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